A group of four independent U.N. rights investigators have, in a report, noted that Sri Lanka was among dozens of countries where people were detained at secret locations and grilled to gather information. The report is to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in March.
The 221-page report constitutes the most exhaustive U.N. study of secret detention practices, examining abuses by the United States and dozens of countries, including Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Sri Lanka.
The report notes that in Sri Lanka, the protracted conflict between the Government and the LTTE has perpetuated the use of secret detention and that in general, Sri Lankan army officials, dressed either in military uniform or civilian clothes, would arrest ethnic Tamils and hold them in secret places of detention for a week or longer.
One such location mentioned in the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture was an army camp located off Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo. The detainees were often interrogated under torture, the purpose of which was to make them confess their involvement with the LTTE. In 1992, the Government adopted a law giving more power to the armed forces and authorizing the use of secret detention camps. Although the emergency regulations issued subsequently in June 1993 outlawed secret detention, there were reliable reports indicating that people continued to be held in undisclosed places where torture was practised, and no action was taken against the perpetrators, the report said.
United Nations human rights mechanisms and non-governmental organizations have expressed serious concerns with regard to abductions by police and military personnel, detention at undisclosed locations, and enforced disappearances.
In its 2008 report to the Human Rights Council, the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances remarked that it “remains gravely concerned at the increase in reported cases of enforced disappearances in the country”.
In its concluding observations on Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Committee expressed its regret regarding impunity for abductions and secret detentions: “the majority of prosecutions initiated against police officers or members of the armed forces on charges of abduction and unlawful confinement, as well as on charges of torture, have been inconclusive due to lack of satisfactory evidence and unavailability of witnesses, despite a number of acknowledged instances of abduction and/or unlawful confinement and/or torture, and only very few police or army officers have been found guilty and punished.” The Human Rights Committee also “note[d] with concern reports that victims of human rights violations feel intimidated from bringing complaints or have been subjected to intimidation and/or threats, thereby discouraging them from pursuing appropriate avenues to obtain an effective remedy”.
Among other countries the report notes that the United States in the company of a long line of despotic regimes, from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, that have used secret prisons -- although the scale of alleged U.S. abuses is infinitesimally small in comparison. (Daily Mirror online)